The sound of music vs. the sound of silence

Music or not? That is the question. Illustration by Jim Carroll
Music or not? That is the question.
Illustration by Jim Carroll

When I run, I listen to everything from Bob Dylan to techno to Beethoven. It helps me block out the pain, the thoughts of “what the hell am I doing running” and the potential of hearing my last dying breath escape my withering body. So, when a running friend of mine strongly suggested I not listen to anything when running the marathon, I got a bit nervous. The thought of running 26.2 miles without anything to listen to is a bit daunting, to say the least.

I’ve always listened to music from the first day I started running — it just made sense. And, as my distances got longer, I started adding things like audio books. Up till then I saw audio books as lazy. Basically, it’s having a book read to me, a practice that should have ended when I was 6. But, I figure I offset the lazy aspect by the fact that I’m running. I’ve heard other runners admit they also listen to audio books — this is usually delivered in a hushed and shameful voice that one usually hears coming out a church confessional. That’s because in some snobby running circles, runners who run with headphones aren’t looked upon as “real runners.”

Those snobs would faint if they knew that my listening options don’t stop at just music and audio books. I also have inspirational speeches on my iPod by people like Winston Churchill, which have helped me through some tough races. When Churchill’s speech comes on, I’m not just running in the Snow Flake 5K — I’m running for forces of good that shall save humanity from the dark and corrupt elements of evil. Then, when the audio speech is over, I’m back to running for snowflakes.

When I recently told a runner friend of mine that I have some inspirational speeches on my iPod, she looked at me with horror, followed closely by confusion, and then capped with pity, as if she just witnessed a puppy being shot out of a canon. I guess I should’ve kept this information private, but I thought everyone had the speech from “Miracle on Ice” on their iPod.

I have already run a couple races without a listening device, and I have to admit it is pretty cool. The sound of other runners’ feet, my own breathing and the cheers of the crowd make me feel like I’m connecting to something bigger. I guess I’m really connecting to myself, which seems more and more like the purpose of this whole experience.

So, I guess on Nov. 3 I’ll leave the headphones at home and put my faith in New Yorkers with the hopes that their angelic voices and cheering will fill my ears and inspire me to greatness. And, if at mile 22 you see me on the brink of total collapse, feel free to sing “Eye of the Tiger” or recite a passage from “Braveheart,” because I’ll be able to hear you every step of the way.


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